Cognitive Impairment and Stupidity Aren’t the Same Thing

by Bill Brenner on November 11, 2014

Writers and editors at The Independent had some fun with an article about a virus that, as they put it, “makes people more stupid.” The problem is that they confuse impaired cognitive function with stupidity. The headline may get attention, but it’s irresponsible.

Mood music:

The article begins with this:

A virus that infects human brains and makes us more stupid has been discovered, according to scientists in the US. The algae virus, never before observed in healthy people, was found to affect cognitive functions including visual processing and spatial awareness.

The article says 40 of 90 people studied tested positive for the so-called algae virus. “Those who tested positive performed worse on tests designed to measure the speed and accuracy of visual processing. They also achieved lower scores in tasks designed to measure attention,” the article stated.

So, we have a bacteria that can make people more stupid? Here’s a definition, for you:


adjective ?stü-p?d, ?styü-

: not intelligent : having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things

: not sensible or logical

: not able to think normally because you are drunk, tired, etc.

Source: Merriam-Webster

Thing is, hampered cognitive and visual processing is not the same as “not intelligent.”

I know many people, myself included, who endure varying degrees of mental impairment that puts a damper on cognitive function, attention and visual processing. When SAD hits me each winter, my attention span and ability to process situations in front of me go straight to the gutter. Friends and loved ones suffer similar problems at the hands of ADHD and autism.

Despite these disadvantages, we learn and gain a new understanding of things daily. We grow. We contribute value to society.

This algae bacteria sounds unpleasant, indeed. Nothing is more frustrating to a person than a body chemistry that pollutes and diminishes the senses.

But it hardly equates to stupidity.

I’ll refrain from affixing that label to the folks responsible for this article, because they too have the ability to learn and understand new things.

I hope they do so in this case.

Einstein wearing an 'I'm with Stupid' T-shirt

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jone November 12, 2014 at 9:26 am

Interesting, informative article and the cartoon just hit the nail on the head with humor. Thanks, I needed that this morn.

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